So The Opportunities Party is officially not invited to the political leaders debate because of a long-standing TVNZ rule to block parties currently polling under 3%.
TVNZ will come to regret this decision.
There will be two major reactions to this. The first is “it’s the rules mate…end of story.” Look no further than Mike Hosking’s recent opinion piece in The Herald for a clear example.
The other reaction is “well, we get those are the rules, but are the rules fair?”
That is a much more interesting response, because it also leads to a question. Why are we content to abide by TVNZ’s rules? And what is it that makes so many of us instinctively rush to defend them?
Firstly, let’s not forget that TVNZ is supposed to be a publicly owned enterprise. In reality it is anything but – it’s more of a Frankenstein, consisting of some good output, cobbled together with flashy ‘info-tainment’ and a celebrity-host culture that is a far cry from what public interest journalism is all about. One of TOP’s policies, Democracy Reset, proposes that it’s become so unhelpful to democracy that we really should sell it, and use the proceeds to fund journalism that recommits to being in the public interest.
TVNZ’s confused model is also exactly what creates arrogant and opinionated characters like Hosking. We should never forget that he is not a journalist – his societal function is to protect the status quo and deride progressivism or change. TVNZ – that public service we pay for – enables him, and thus enables and supports his function.
From this it is not such a difficult logical leap to see that TVNZ’s rules are just another, more formalised way to protect the status quo.
Doesn’t it seem strange that The Maori Party, Mana and ACT are represented at the debate despite them all polling lower than The Opportunities Party? In fact the latest NewsHub poll has TOP polling higher than all of them put together. And this is notwithstanding the substantial margin of error that exists when below 5%.
TVNZ justifies this with its other rule – that incumbent parties automatically get a spot. You can argue the merits of this as an isolated rule, but what you can’t argue is that these two rules together essentially protect incumbents and disadvantage new parties.
And who actually benefits from that? Because it is not the New Zealand public.
Red, Blue, Nothing New
The problem here is not TOP, it’s not Gareth, it’s not any party, and it’s not just people who are upset because the rules disadvantage them. The problem here is the rules themselves.
TOP will continue to campaign as it has done. Its internal polling paints a far more favourable position than is currently reported. It’s always a potentially fraught exercise, but I bet that they will easily make 5%. We are going through a period in society where the ‘experts’ have proven themselves to be spectacularly wrong on many, many occasions. I think they are wrong again.
That also reinforces why, as a thinking, critical public, we need to be smarter than simply parroting Hosking’s submissive and jingoistic stance of “it’s the rules mate” – that is precisely what he and TVNZ want us to do. Which is precisely why we shouldn’t do it.
This fiasco is actually about democracy and MMP itself. With this election increasingly threatening to leave us with a two-party duopoly, we need to defend against anything that has the potential to harm the pluralism that is necessary for a vibrant democracy.
TVNZ is doing just that. What’s even worse is that we are paying them to do it.
Time to wake up New Zealand.